Seattle – Mike Cameron returned to the Seattle Mariners on Friday for one day, but decided to stay forever.
When the center fielder was traveling to Seattle to throw out the ceremonial first pitch for the home opener at Safeco Field, a thought crossed his mind.
“I decided I wanted to retire as a Mariner,” he said.
And the Mariners were happy to oblige.
After he signed a minor-league contract with the Washington Nationals in the offseason and retired six days before spring training, Cameron signed a one-day contract with the Mariners – “my family away from Georgia” – so he could retire with the team where his career blossomed.
“It’s probably the one place that I feel like is home for me,” Cameron said an hour before tossing out a first pitch that he bounced toward his former teammate and buddy Ichiro Suzuki.
“It’s a long way from home for me, but it’s also been a special home for me. I felt like it was only fitting to try to slide my way into the Mariner family for the rest of my life.”
But Cameron didn’t need to slide. He simply had to ask.
“When Mike told us that he would like to retire as a Mariner, we were excited and proud and wanted to make it happen,” team president Chuck Armstrong said. “He was an integral contributor to the Mariners’ success from 2000 to 2003, and is a wonderful representative of the Mariners and the game of baseball.”
Cameron played four seasons with the Mariners, hitting .256 with 87 homers and 344 RBI. He memorably hit four home runs in a game against the Chicago White Sox on May 5, 2002. He also hit a walk-off homer to end a 19-inning marathon against the Boston Red Sox on Aug. 1, 2000.
Of course, he was best known for his head-shaking, eye-popping catches in center field, which helped him earn two Gold Gloves with Seattle (2001 and 2003).
His proudest moment came in 2001 when the team won a record 116 games, and he was named to the American League All-Star team for the game played at Safeco Field.
He recalled then-assistant general manager Lee Pelekoudas delivering him the news.
“It was one of the highlights of my career,” Cameron said. “Having them being able to announce my name for the All-Star Game and having my whole family come up for that was pretty special.”
Overshadowing the memorable homers, the amazing catches and the deserving awards was the fact that Cameron was asked to replace a legend in center field.
He came to Seattle as part of the trade that sent Ken Griffey Jr. to the Cincinnati Reds.
The idea of replacing the most celebrated player in franchise history might have overwhelmed some players, but Cameron just focused on being himself.
“I knew I could play baseball,” he said. “I was more afraid of failing than anything. That was probably the biggest thing is I didn’t want to be one guy who didn’t live up to the billing. I knew I could play. It worked out good because we had so many good players around us.”
Cameron appreciated that the organization and fans embraced him and never asked him to be Griffey.
“You’re replacing a legend,” he said. “And the fact that the people took hold and shaped me and walked me through everything, it gave me a great opportunity to start my career off right.”
Now his career is over after eight teams and 17 big league seasons. He’s at peace with it and has no regrets.
“Everywhere I went, I tried to make it feel like I belonged there,” he said. “This is the one place that was different. This was where my family was most comfortable.
“We were winners. …We came up short as far as getting to the ultimate prize. But I couldn’t be more proud of the things I was able to do here.”
Ryan Divish: 253-597-8483 firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/uwsports